A Tour of Volcanic Colima

Last week my sister in the United States visited me here in my home. Before arriving she said that she would like to visit the beach and tour our volcano. We did spend a day at the beach, and last Thursday she got to see our volcano up close.

There is a local woman who does group and private tours. For those of you who live locally or plan to visit some day, her name is Lucie, her company is Meshico Magical Tours and her web site is Meshicomagical.com

I had been worried that our tour would need to be cancelled because a few days before we were notified of a yellow alert due to the sensors detecting increased activity. The exclusion zone was changed to include the area within 8km of the volcano. I didn’t see any increase of activity when looking at the volcano with my naked eye, but the Civil Protection authorities are very diligent about keeping the public informed of any danger and precautions that must be taken. The volcano is constantly monitored by members of the Volcanological Observatory and the Committee for the Evaluation of Risk of the University of Colima – the Centre of Exchange and Research in Volcanology.

Thursday morning dawned with no increased severity of warnings, which Lucie also monitored, and so my sister Mary and I gathered up our water bottles, hats, walking sticks and backpacks and headed off to see the volcano.

Actually, there are two volcanoes visible today from nearby villages, such as where I live. There is the Volcán de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, which is the active volcano and the Volcán de Nieve, or Volcano of Snow which is the inactive volcano. They are part of the Colima Volcano Complex (CVC).

Here you can see the Volcano of Fire on the right, and the Volcano of Snow on the left. The active volcano is 3839 meters (12,595 feet), while the inactive volcano is 4270 meters (14,009 feet) in height. It appears lower in height because it is farther away.
In pre-Columbian times, the Volcano of Fire was called Tonaltepetl and the Volcano of Snow was called Zapotepetl. As with the volcanoes of Puebla, the active ones were associated with masculine figures and the inactive ones with feminine figures.


Fuego is actually composed of two superimposed volcanic cones, the older one being the collapsed Paleofuego volcano whose activity ended with a southward-directed sector failure in the Holocene era. The younger, active Fuego is built inside the horseshoe-shaped depression of Paleofuego.



Figure 2
Open in figure viewerPowerPoint
Perspective view from the SW of the Nevado de Colima volcano (NC), Fuego de Colima volcano (FC), and Los Hijos lava cones (LH). The view was generated from DEM and Landsat ETM satellite image. Vertical exaggeration 1,5X.
https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2010JB007649

According to the Journal of Geophysical Research, there is a 5 km wide, 130-250 meter deep depression on the southwest side of the Fuego active crater near Yerbabuena Village.

Within the past few years, there had been an evacuation of Yerbabuena village, and today it is practically a ghost town. A few people remain, but many buildings stand empty, including a school. The people who remain believe that if they evacuate, then the government will take their land and they will be unable to return

On the road to the volcano we stopped to look at this raised, triangular formation. Lucie told us that behind and beside this formation was a crater lake. In the distant past, much of this land was covered with volcanoes, and over time as a result of much geological activity, we now have the landscape that we were looking at.

As we approached the Volcán de Fuego, we came upon an avocado orchard, within which is a tree called the Guardián del Volcán, a tree which some estimate to be about 200 years old. It is said that if the tree is destroyed, that people in the area will no longer be protected from the volcano. Evidence of this belief is reflected in this graffiti:

Painting depicting lava flowing down the depression in the side of the volcano, leading to La Yerbabuena

The house at the entrance to the orchard is privately owned, but now people are allowed to pass through the gate to visit the sacred tree, The Guardian of the Volcano.

entrance to the orchard and The Guardian

Here is the tree from a distance

and here is the tree up close.

From a distance it looks like one tree with branches and leaves forming a huge dome. Up close, it appears to be many trees growing together. You can see in the photo what appears to be many bare branches hanging above the ground. Lucie told us that they are actually roots heading towards the ground which will then be anchored there. I see many trees here in Colima which have shoots come down from the branches which then anchor into the ground.

Close-up of the part of the tree which will eventually be anchored into the ground

Lucie (left) and my sister Mary (right) at the base of the tree

Looking towards the top of the tree


Looking out from the base of the tree to the branches which almost touch the ground



After visiting the Guardian and the avocado orchard, we headed back towards the coffee plantation La Yerbabuena. Here, the volcanic soil creates a good environment for growing delicious coffee. Unfortunately, when the volcano is active, the ash also disperses acid into the air, which is very destructive for the coffee plants. I witnessed this in 2016 while living in the volunteers’ residence at Project Amigo as I watched the leaves of the bushes in our courtyard sadly turn yellow.

It was the end of the harvesting season, but when the coffee cherries are picked, they are laid out on this cement platform to dry. Some of the cherries are de-pulped first and some are left to dry with the pulp intact. The coffee bean itself is the center of the coffee cherry. Depending on how it is prepared determines its flavor and strength after processing.

In this casita, Ramón, the owner, serves hot and cold coffee beverages as well as sells bags of whole bean and ground coffee. He also sells his coffee locally in Colima State.


After enjoying our cups of prepared coffee, we headed towards the crater lake. On the way we saw this bird:

We searched through a guidebook, but could not identify what type of bird it was. Then I saw it start to fly away with a little gecko in its beak – I wasn’t quick enough to get a good picture – the camera was focusing on the foliage instead of the bird – but what the heck, I’ll share it anyway. At some point in the near future, I will go on a bird-watching tour and get some good photos at that time.

The crater lake was very tranquil and beautiful. I tried to imagine it being the crater of a volcano so many eons ago. At times, I wish it was possible to view in time lapse various parts of the world from billions of years ago to the present, such as the continents crashing together and then pulling apart, and I wished I could do the same here – to see the land go from being many volcanoes with violent eruptions to gradually having many of them collapse, cool off and leaving a few to remain active while the ground beneath turned into fertile soil for the life-sustaining fruits and vegetables that now grow in this state from the highlands down to the sea.

We saw people enjoying the tranquility, canoeing or fishing, or just enjoying the scenery while eating lunch, as we were. Meanwhile, we also admired the variety of birds, the likes of which we had not seen while living in the United States.

There was also a tree next to the lake which I found very curious. It seemed to have one end of the trunk in the ground, curve around and have its other end also in the ground. I’m sure if I had taken a more intensive look, I could have figured out what was going on, but I didn’t. It seems that I am always surprised to find new plants, trees and animals that I had never seen before.

I am always amazed at how easily things grow here. Put something into the ground and it will grow. Even if it looks dead during the dry season – even if you would bet money on it being dead – it springs back to life once the rainy season begins. With the rains, everything is explosively blooming, and everything turns green and clean.

Two views of the crater lake , La Laguna de la Maria

In case you want to learn more about the volcanoes of our regions here are two links:

http://volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=341040

I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit more about our volcanoes and that the narrative has not been too hard to follow. There was a little bit of something for everyone, no matter your level of interest, from detailed geological history to general knowledge to nice photographs. So until next time, be well and take care.

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